Corolla is all-new for 2020, marking the 12th-generation for the venerable compact. The hatchback version made its debut this past summer, but sedan models didn't show up until late fall. Though the sedan's wheelbase and most exterior dimensions remain similar to the outgoing model, both the sedan and hatchback now share Toyota's New Global Architecture (TNGA). In addition, Toyota has added a hybrid to the model mix -- a Corolla first. Competitors include the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra and Subaru Impreza.
The sedan is offered in L, LE, SE, XLE and XSE trim. L, LE and XLE get a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine that carries over from 2019 and makes 139 horsepower. SE and XSE models get a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that makes 169 horsepower. Standard in both is a continuously variable automatic transmission, which in the SE and XSE gets a traditional first-gear for more positive-feeling launches. Also available on the SE is a 6-speed manual that offers downshift rev-matching. All models are front-wheel drive.
For the first time, Corolla is also offered with a hybrid powertrain. The 1.8-liter 4-cylinder pairs with an electric motor for a combined output of 121 horsepower. Like other Corolla models, the hybrid is front-wheel drive.
All models come standard with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. Safety Sense includes forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning with assist and lane centering, automatic high-beam headlights and road-sign assist. Also available is blind-spot monitor and Toyota's Entune 3.0 infotainment system. It brings Apple Car Play and Amazon Alexa support, an 8-inch touch screen and Entune 3.0 App Suite Connect, which allows for specific apps on your phone to integrate with the display screen. Pricing for the Corolla sedan starts at $19,600.
Corolla's base engine provides little excitement as it dutifully does its job of keeping the overall price down. It's milquetoast acceleration and buzzy nature are everything you'd expect in a compact sedan. Adding to the frustration is a sloppy continuously variable transmission (CVT) that blunts acceleration further.
The new 2.0-liter four on the SE and XSE is a welcome upgrade, but still not as powerful as turbo offerings in competitors. It will propel the SE from 0 to 60 MPH in about 7.5 seconds, which is class appropriate. Most will come equipped with an enhanced CVT that has a true first gear. This offers two advantages. It provides a positive feeling as you pull away from a stoplight and it allows the CVT to operate more quickly and efficiently at higher speeds. Kudos as well to the 6-speed manual transmission, which is offered in the sport-minded SE. It boasts a rev-matching feature that eases downshift shift-shock and makes even novice drivers look like pros.
When it comes to fuel economy, most would think that that the base engine is the more frugal choice. Not so. Its EPA numbers are 31 MPG highway and 38 MPG, while the 2.0-liter's EPA numbers are 32 MPG city and 41 MPG highway. In either case, those numbers trail competitors by a few MPG. In routine suburban commuting, Corolla should average close to 30 MPG overall, perhaps as high as 35 MPG if you throw in some gentle highway cruising. Corolla's 13.2-gallon gas tank, give it an overall range of about 450 miles per tank.
The switch to the new TNGA chassis is significant for a couple of reasons. First, it allows Toyota to maximize cost savings in development and direct additional funding into other areas that might add features or lower overall cost. Secondly, it allowed Toyota to ditch the old torsion-beam rear suspension in favor of a more sophisticated multi-link setup and greatly increase chassis rigidity. In essence, the new platform completely transforms Corolla from a ho-hum handler into a capable and comfortable cruiser.
No, Corolla isn't going to be anyone's first choice when it comes to auto-cross running, but Corolla now offers a solid blend of handling comfort and ride control. Models with an "L" in the trim are tuned for overall comfort, while models with an "SE" attempt to add a bit of sport into the equation. In all, that allows buyers to find a Corolla trim that best suites them, which, unlike some competitors, which force buyers to choose between features and sport.
Steering feel is greatly improved with a decided on-center lock and good feedback when going over bumps. Brakes have adequate stopping power, but seem to go into anti-lock mode too quickly in hard stops. Interior noise levels are nicely muted at all speeds, but both engines growl and groan in acceleration. Overall, the Corolla is more rewarding to drive than in the past and strikes a great balance between ride comfort and handling prowess that most buyers in this class with greatly appreciate.
Inside, Corolla seems more modern and sophisticated, but remains familiar to the Toyota brand with sturdy if not a bit pedestrian materials. The wrapped dashboard lends an air of sophistication and some chrome brightwork lightens up the mood.
With a large dial speedometer and smaller tach, fuel and temp readout, gauges are traditional for the compact class. There's a color info screen as well. A large display screen dominates the center stack. It's touch sensitive but perhaps a bit too far away for convenient operation. Below are conventional dials and buttons for the audio and climate control systems. Beyond that, the interior is fairly Spartan, though there is an optional wireless charging tray, which is nice for this class. One negative is the lack of support for Android Auto.
The front seats are decently padded with enough comfort and support to suit most body types. Head room is generous and leg room good. The rear seats aren't as roomy as before, but still adult friendly. Entry and exit are easy with a modest step in and wide-opening doors. Outward visibility is excellent, thanks to a tall greenhouse and thin roof pillars.
Cargo space is a modest 13.1 cubic feet. That trails others in the class a bit, but at least the opening is large and the rear seats fold to increase capacity. Interior storage is modest with a center console bin, average map pockets and a roomy glovebox.
Bottom Line -- The 12th generation Corolla builds on all of the old models virtues, reliability, practicality and value. The redesign injects a much-needed bit of flair and overall refinement -- not to mention more than a pinch of style. For the traditional compact-car shopper, it's hard to find fault in Corolla, as it delivers on all of the key ingredients. Plus, there's unbelievable reliability and resale value that rewards ownership over time.